Cubs notebook: Solving the roster puzzle when Joc Pederson returns
Joc Pederson is nearing a return from the injured list — just in time for the Cubs welcome his old team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to Wrigley Field for a three-game set beginning Monday night.
Pederson has been with the Cubs in Cincinnati over the weekend taking batting practice and then left to join the South Bend group Sunday to see some live pitching in a practice scenario.
The Cubs don’t have a next step from there, as they plan to assess the status of Pederson’s left wrist after Sunday’s workload. He is eligible to be activated off the IL and that could happen as soon as Monday.
When Pederson rejoins the big league team, how will the roster — and playing time — shake out? That’s the big question currently facing David Ross and Jed Hoyer.
“When Joc comes off, we’ll have to make a roster move,” Ross said. “I don’t know what that is. We’ve played with a short bench all year with four [players]. That’s an option. There are guys daily that have bumps and bruises that you’re trying to get through when you’re short-handed. We’re already really short right now and there’s multiple guys that are grinding in areas.
“It’s funny how each game, things pop up and change. So we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but that’s just part of it.”
As Ross said, these things often have a way of working themselves out in baseball as situations change on a near-daily basis in terms of the roster and players’ health.
The Cubs spent the entire first month of the season with a 9-man bullpen and a 4-man bench. When Pederson returns, they could flip that temporarily and carry an extra position player.
Right now, the initial roster move might be to option Keegan Thompson back to the minor leagues after he was added to the bullpen Saturday morning.
That would leave the Cubs with an 8-man bullpen and allow Ross more flexibility with the starting lineup based on matchups as well as in-game moves like pinch-hitting and double switches. And if the starting rotation is able to pitch deeper into games in the coming weeks, the bullpen would not be as taxed as they have been recently (16 innings pitched over the last three games).
But even after the Cubs figure out the roster puzzle, Ross will have a tough task with doling out playing time. There are currently a lot of position players that have earned regular at-bats — whether through recent strong play or a track record of success in their career.
Nico Hoerner was called up to the majors to take Pederson’s spot on the roster and he has been an everyday player over the last week-and-a-half. Hoerner has impacted the game in a variety of ways, including a .375 batting average and the winning RBI Saturday.
David Bote earned the everyday second base role out of spring training, leading to Hoerner’s demotion to the minors for the first few weeks of the season. Matt Duffy has also played really well in a larger role in Pederson’s absence, pushing Kris Bryant to the outfield.
Ian Happ’s injury Sunday on a scary collision might also factor into the roster equation.
A step forward for Davies
Zach Davies had a month to forget in April but he started May off on an encouraging foot. He allowed 1 earned run in 4 innings Saturday and while he permitted a few baserunners (4 hits, 3 walks), the veteran was able to escape jams and took some steps forward with his command.
“Angles for him were better,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “I thought you saw a lot more pitches down in the strike zone. We started seeing that sinker actually have some more depth to it, some more sink and not as much of that run.
“So I think the things he’s working on, the things he’s focused on — it’s definitely headed in the right direction.”
Davies is 1-2 with an 8.22 ERA and 2.13 WHIP through 6 starts this season.
Willson Contreras was out of the starting lineup for a second straight game Sunday as he deals with right thigh tightness. He continues to progress and could catch in an emergency situation.
“I think he will be loosely available, if that’s a thing,” Ross said pregame. “I can use him in a situation where something might happen.”
That wound up occurring, as Contreras was pressed into duty for the final few innings of Sunday’s contest when Happ had to exit due to injury.
Veteran reliever Rex Brothers is also expected to be fine with a “lower body” issue that popped up during his appearance Saturday.